Julie Johnston, Lakewood Elementary Behavior Intervention Specialist

Julie Johnston grew up in the small town of Geneva, Ohio, located on Lake Erie about an hour outside of Cleveland. After graduating from Kent State University in 1998 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration, focusing on computer information systems, she pursued a career in education. For the past 11 years, Johnston has worked in schools, with the last eight years as a behavior intervention specialist.

Johnston joined Ann Arbor Public Schools in November 2021, bringing her extensive experience and training in responsive classroom approaches, restorative practices, zones of regulation, positive behavior interventions, and relationship building.

Lakewood Principal Airess Stewart says Johnston is dedicated to supporting the well-being of the entire Lakewood community. 

“She works hard and is committed to creating a social-emotional learning program to meet the needs of all students which includes community-building activities, social-emotional lessons, restorative conversations, sharing community resources, and more.,” says Stewart  “I am beyond grateful to have her part of our team.”

Johnston and her husband, Sean, are the proud parents of two sons. Chris is a junior at Virginia Tech while Corey is a junior at Washtenaw International High School. Her family also includes two “fur babies”—a dog named Rocky and a new kitten named Mugsy.  She enjoys traveling, cooking, reading, and spending time with her family.

What inspired you to become a Behavior Intervention Specialist?
Simply put: the students. They have always been my why. I am driven to help all students be seen and heard. It’s tough sometimes to separate the student from the behavior but when we pause and help students communicate their needs, magic happens. When I first started as a Behavior Intervention Specialist I had an excellent mentor who had previously been in my role with AAPS. She helped
me develop my relationship skills and taught me to see that one person can make a difference. I think it is important that all students have someone who shows up for them even on the hard days.

Why did you want to work for Ann Arbor Public Schools?
I wanted to work for AAPS because I appreciate how unique each school is. Each community is a family and I really wanted to be a part of that. I am fortunate to have found a school that truly cares about the whole child and allows us the opportunity to have SEL built into our daily practices.

Can you describe a typical day in your role?
I can’t say I have a typical day. Each day brings new challenges and opportunities to see and foster student growth. I am constantly learning so I can be the best support possible.

What are some of the most common behavioral challenges you encounter with students?
I will say there is one behavioral challenge I see more than anything else: Dysregulation. It became clear during the pandemic students missed critical social and emotional skill-building time. We have a lot of work to do to build our students’ emotional toolbox. We have to be intentional and give students the tools they need to identify emotions and independently self-regulate.

What advice would you give to parents who are struggling with their child’s behavior at home?
Pause, check in with yourself, and breathe. Before you react make sure you are ready to listen. Your child is trying to communicate with you but they haven’t fully developed the skills to communicate in a way you can hear. When ready, ask: “What’s up?” Don’t speak, just listen. Then come up with a plan together.

What’s the best compliment you could receive?
The best compliment I could receive is knowing I made a difference. Whether that be with a student, a staff member, or a family—just knowing I did something that positively impacted them is the best compliment. When people trust that I will do whatever I can for them, I really feel proud. Shortly after I started my role in a previous district, a student came to our school in sixth grade and up until then he didn’t like to come to school and most days acted out. As a result, his relationships with adults in school
hadn’t been that great. I put the work into building a relationship with this student and at the end of his first year with us he said I was the reason he came to school. It can’t get better than that. He and his family knew I cared and I wouldn’t give up. Years later I still receive messages from this student.

Favorite podcasts and websites:
Right now I am listening to a podcast hosted by Brene’ Brown: Dare to Lead. My principal introduced me to Brene’ Brown’s work and I just can’t get enough.

What are some of the most rewarding aspects of your job?

The most rewarding aspect of my job is building relationships. I am fortunate to be surrounded by amazing people who inspire me. I get the opportunity to work with students, families, and staff every day. I couldn’t ask for anything more.

What challenges do you face in your role, and how do you overcome them?
Giving up control is my biggest challenge. When you work with children you are constantly reminded that things don’t always go the way you pictured. I have learned that I can’t control everything but I can control myself. I have a great team that I can lean on when I need to stop and pause. And if I forget to take care of myself they remind me.

How do you measure the effectiveness of your interventions?
I think the best way to measure the effectiveness of my interventions is by doing check-ins with the student and the teacher. Hearing how they are feeling, do they see progress, are things improving? We collect data all the time but sometimes a conversion can tell us much more.

How do you spend your summers?
I don’t take a lot of time off in the summer but when I do I focus on my family including my fur babies. We travel and go on as many adventures as possible. If I can make it to a beach I will be a very happy person!

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